How is time perceived in an ever-changing reality, in a world of constant rush? How much time is there for one's own, free from outside stipulations? How do proclaimed concepts of time interfere with subjectivity – is there even such a thing as autonomous time? To find a single answer to each of these questions seems to be impossible, for time, as objective as it may appear, always contained a manyfold of fractured, and diverse (lived) realities. Nevertheless time and temporality are important factors for the constitution of reality and society as well as for the construction of history.
Especially in the account of those advocating for the rights of marginalized communities, the actualization of theories of time and historiography with more intersectional approaches has been tackled. In the field of chronopolitics “queer time” and “racial time” are such concepts. They arise from an altercation of how heteronormativity and whiteness instrumentalize the concept of linear time for the ideological preservation of traditional ways of life – whereas historical disjunctures and dispositions almost always correlate with the life paths of individuals whose identity markers do not dissolve into the seemingly normative criteria. In her book Taking Stakes in the Unknown. Tracing Post-Black Art, Nana Adusei-Poku coins the concept of “hetero-temporality”(1) to establish a framework for the examination of alternate temporalities in art. Building upon the theories of Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, Adusei-Poku presents a concept of time-and-space perception, aware of multifaceted and marginalized histories. Such concepts of alternate temporalities open up new perspectives on the lived realities, and the political possibilities of the contemporary age. (2)
For their collaborative work Rest in Peace Simulation (2022 – ongoing), the artists Philisha Kay and Vanessa A. Opoku, critically engage with the prevailing narrative of linear time, that often goes hand in hand with the notion of progress. They attempt to approach a mode of altered temporality through guided meditations in virtual space. The simulation is set out to be launched in three chapters. The first one, Out-of-Sync Recalibration,was shown at Nanfei Bar, Guangzhou (CHN) until February 5th 2023, and simultaneously published online. Visitors on site were given tablets and headphones through which they were able to access the simulation in first-person perspective. The on-going collaboration between the two artists is part of the transnational project Escaping Involution, organized by HB Station in Guangzhou (CHN) and Synnika, Frankfurt/Main (DE). While being globally confronted with exploitative capitalist strategies that manipulate workers to take part in the cycle of ceaseless improvement in a world driven by acceleration, Escaping Involution counteracts such tendencies through aesthetic interventions. Obviously art labor itself always has to deal with the inherent conflict of self-exploitation in a system driven by high-performance. Yet Rest in Peace Simulation seems to almost transcend the scope of aesthetics due to its participatory character. For the 360° digitally generated environment built by Vanessa A. Opoku, and accompanied by a voice over written by Philisha Kay, aims to create a space to experience temporary sensorial detachment. By diving into a sphere of being, contrary to the seemingly irrevocable state of restless self-optimization, the viewer should find a place of calm. Resting therefore turns into a radical statement which bears political consequentiality for those who can afford it. The agency to withdraw from the mechanisms inflicted by mainstream society allows to reflect critically on the benefit of conscious inactivity. At the same time, Out-of-Sync Recalibration does not simply affirm a docile place of rest, but emphasizes the aporia of the continuous sensory overload one is faced daily.
Entering the simulation, which is constructed as a narrative unfolding on three spatial stages, the viewer gets immersed into the eclectic environment. The first and second stage are backdrops partly generated with a text-to-image AI, based upon the spoken text, whereas the 3D-area of the third stage is built by hand. While the first stage seems to exist out of space and time, with silhouettes of bodies on the fringe of their own corporeality, and with no clear distinctions between spatial layers, the second stage can easily be read as a yoga studio. Philisha Kay as the off-voice and instructress, guides through the thirteen-step meditation, explaining how synchronization with chronometers is a cultural practice, and outlining the colonial implications of linear time. It shines through that any idea of time-management taught in an exploitative system can only benefit the concept of efficiency of those in power. Simultaneously an intrinsic friction becomes evident: by using imagery created with AI, the simulation employs data that relies on human-made limitations, therefore cultural intentions. So, as much as Rest In Peace Simulation wants to resist the performance pressure of society, it derives from visual triggers that originate in the mindfulness industry, which preaches wellness only to increase productivity. The simulation therefore prompts towards one's own understanding of the ambiguous concept of recreation. After transitioning to the third and last stage of the simulation, ostensibly a “natural environment”, the viewer encounters fast day-and-night switches. The digital realm here seems to pose the question of the virtuality of time itself, as it dwells and passes at its own discretion. As the meditation ends, the viewer is left with instructions on how to reach temporal asynchronicity. The tangible method, that presents synchronization as an act of mutual adaptation, wants to give the viewer as much authority to act with time, than the other way around, and therefore the ability to interrupt synchronicity.
By inviting the viewer to switch off the network-provided time on the device used and change it to a time of one’s choosing, the Rest in Peace Simulation creates a state of fiction, in which access to asynchonicity becomes possible. Might it only be transient, it nevertheless enabled to experience a brief emancipation from linear passing, a breakout of society’s grind. Thus the Out-of-Sync Recalibration can be understood as a first attempt in the process of time appropriation, indicating the possibility to rethink temporality as an extensible entity. Concepts of alternate temporality and ideas of time's multi-perspectivity can pave the way towards societal organization, oriented on non-hierarchical structures.
This article is part of Escaping Involution, a collaboration between HB Station, Guangzhou (CHN) and Synnika, Frankfurt/Main. Synnika is the official pick-up station for Arts of the Working Class in the central station district of Frankfurt/Main. For more information visit www.escapinginvolution.com and www.synnika.space
1. Other than the concept of “heterotemporality”, meaning the narrative of a traditional heteronormative life (such as adulthood – marriage – reproduction), Adusei-Poku uses “hetero-temporality” to amplify the notion of multiplicity of time opposed to a singular, and therefore linear time. Cf.: Adusei-Poku, Nana (2021). Taking Stakes in the Unknown: Tracing Post-Black Art. transcript Verlag, p. 126.
2. Artistically this topic has come to the fore especially by works of the collective Black Quantum Futurism, and exhibition projects like No Linear Fucking Time (2021 – 2022).
Cover: Philisha Kay & Vanessa A. Opoku, Excerpts from Rest in Peace Simulation – Out-of-Sync Recalibration (2022), 360°-video with sound.